The flight began like any other, with the B-1B from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas on a routine return flight when a fire warning light popped on inside the cockpit on May 1, 2018. The Lancer’s four-man crew, comprised of a commander, copilot, offensive systems operator, and defensive systems operator, promptly set about moving through the engine fire checklist.

Details remain sparse, but it appears the crew consisted of a senior commander and what may have been three trainees, though by all accounts, they executed the aircraft fire procedures without issue. The fire, located in the aircraft’s number three engine (closest to the fuselage on the right wing) continued to burn as they approached the final line on the checklist you can only reach if every previous effort fails:

Eject from the aircraft.

Looking back at last year's heroic Lancer crew that landed a damaged bomber after ejection seats failed

The commander then issued the order to eject, a procedure that began with the Offensive Systems Operator located in the cockpit’s right rear seat. The crew member followed orders, pulling the ejection seat handles and blowing the hatch from the roof of the aircraft but then something went wrong. The cabin depressurized as a rush of air was sucked from the gaping hole in the cockpit, but the Weber Aircraft ACES II (Advanced Crew Ejection Seat II) ejection seat didn’t fire. The Offensive Systems Operator remained right where he was, sitting beneath a hole in the ceiling of the aircraft atop a rocket-propelled seat that hadn’t fired yet — but could at any time.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told defense journalist Tara Copp that, “Within two seconds of knowing that had happened the aircraft commander says, ‘Cease ejection. We’ll try to land.'” For the crew of the B-1B, that was no small order. Wilson described it as, “like pulling out the pin on a grenade and holding it as you come in to land. And not knowing whether the next piece of turbulence is going to cause you to launch.”

Looking back at last year's heroic Lancer crew that landed a damaged bomber after ejection seats failed

The aircraft commander then diverted to Midland International Air and Space Port to attempt an emergency landing. It’s difficult to overstate the difficulty and danger associated with this decision. The commander could have chosen to continue with ejection procedures in hopes the malfunctioning seat would eventually fire and assuring his own safety as well as that of the two other crew members.